Statistically at least, the third intifada – the violent outburst that began last October — is showing signs of subsiding.
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A gradual reduction of the violence in the occupied territories was registered in January and February and became more pronounced in March and April (the last fatality was the American tourist who was stabbed to death in Jaffa more than a month ago.)
Over the past week, a number of knife-carrying Palestinians were arrested at roadblocks in the West Bank and in the Old City of Jerusalem. But the last attack with casualties was carried out a week ago by an Arab Israeli woman from Kafr Qasem, who stabbed and lightly wounded a civilian in the nearby industrial area.
When we speak of a decline in violence we must do so cautiously. Since the current intifada is conducted from the grass-roots and is not directed by a central leadership, it is difficult to analyze and predict in what direction it will go. Notwithstanding, the large West Bank demonstrations which attracted at most a few thousand participants, have not only stopped almost entirely, but the rate of “lone wolf” attacks has decreased considerably.
When the violence began, IDF officers spoke of a wave that feeds itself, referring to the media and social media coverage that creates copycat attacks after the success of a single assailant. Lately, with the dwindling of successful attacks, the copycat effect also seems to have been halted, to some extent.
Caution should also be applied in analyzing the religious component, which played a central role in the October outburst due to the tension around the Temple Mount. The attacks in Jerusalem started abating, to a limited extent, in December-January, an effect that has been attributed to the massive police deployment along the seam separating the two parts of the city and roadblocks between it and the West Bank.
The second key reason for the decline in violence in Jerusalem was Israel’s steps to restrain the activity of various politicians and organizations around and on the Temple Mount. However, the approaching Passover holiday may bring with it renewed conflagration. More Jews will visit the site, putting a strain on the situation, which is already tense due to the Palestinians’ objection to Israel’s agreement with Jordan about placing security cameras on the Temple Mount.
The defense establishment gives three reasons for the relative decline in violence both in the West Bank and in Israel. The first is the improvement in the ability of Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet to locate and arrest Palestinian youngsters planning “lone wolf” attacks. Sometimes these youngsters write about their intentions on social networks. At the same time, the Palestinian security forces are also arresting people, while holding talks in schools to persuade students not to carry out attacks that would probably get them killed.
The third reason is the improved security coordination with the Palestinian Authority and its relative restriction of incitement on its official media outlets.
That is why the IDF has been advocating reduced military activity in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (A areas,), except for “ticking bomb” cases. It is in keeping with the IDF’s unequivocal recommendation, which the government has adopted from the beginning of the confrontation, to avoid harming the West Bank population and not to restrict the Palestinian laborers entering Israel.
The violence in October came as no surprise. For months, various defense officials, including the office of the Coordinator of Activities and the heads of the Central Command, have been warning that the despair of the young Palestinian generation in the West Bank – engendered by the absence of both economic options and a peace process – could lead to a violent outburst. The outburst’s timing itself was not predicted; in fact some intelligence officials were surprised it came so late.
It could still take some time for the violence to abate. It is also possible that other developments, from tension on the Temple Mount to a Palestinian campaign in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation, due in June, would reignite the uprising.